ROAD MAP to Strengths Use

By Dr. Ryan Niemiec
Finger pointing to a spot on a map

When you are exploring your VIA character strengths or attempting to help someone connect more with their own, it is useful to have some guideposts. In other words, everyone needs a “road map” at one point or another, and the phrase “road map” can also serve as an acronym for ways that you can dig deeper into your character strengths.

Each of the following “action verbs” can be applied to any of the 24 character strengths in the VIA Classification. You might take a general approach, such as, reflecting on your past strengths use and appreciating the strengths of others. Or, you could take a specific approach and target one or more strengths, such as discussing your strength of curiosity with a friend and planning out ways that you will use fairness more in your life.

This template is intentionally general in attempt to be applicable to any strength. So, here’s your ROAD MAP for character strengths use:

Reflect: Take time out to think about ways you have used strengths in your past successes and your struggles. When you were at your best, what strengths did you use? At times of high stress, what strengths did you call forth to help you push forward? Consider how you have recently used your strengths. What strengths have you deployed today?

Observe: Just be, sit and observe your surroundings. Use mindfulness to gently hold your attention on what you take in with your five senses. Rather than trying to spot any strength in particular, simply observe your environment and the people around you with curiosity and interest. What strengths pop up?

Appreciate: Tell others about how you value their strengths. Name the strength that you see them express and share the specific rationale for how you saw them display the strength in action. Here are two examples: “John, I was impressed by how well you kept your cool during that heated debate at our meeting yesterday. That took a lot of self-regulation on your part!” or “Mom, you seem to always offer me warmth and kind words at just the right time. This is exactly what helps me feel cared for and supported. I want you to know how much I value your love.”

Discuss: Communicate with others about your strengths. Allow “strengths of character” to be your topic of conversation. When with your family, talk about what the family’s core strengths have been over the years; when you are with friends, tell them about your burgeoning curiosity or the ways you’ve expressed your creativity at work in the last week.

Monitor: Self-monitoring is one of the best techniques in all of psychology. It involves closely tracking your internal experiences and behaviors across some unit of time (e.g., each hour, each morning, each day, etc.). Most often it is applied to one’s dietary intake, exercise plan, or emotions. You might wish to do what one of America’s “founding fathers,” Benjamin Franklin, did and track specific strengths you are trying to work on, focusing on one strength per week. Write down your findings in a log, a journal, or a computer file.

Ask: Get feedback from your family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors on the strengths you use. What strengths do others see that you don’t see? Maybe others see a lot of creativity and forgiveness in you that you were not aware of. What strengths do you see in yourself that others also report you show? Knowing this will help you see how well your perception of yourself lines up with your actual behavior.

Plan: Want to boost one of your strengths? Set a goal around the strength you’d like to display more often. The general idea is to turn your use of strengths into a routine. It might be helpful to set up reminders and environmental cues (e.g., Post-It Notes) to cue yourself.

This “road map” will help you get started and make substantial progress on your strengths journey. Of course, no map can contain every pathway and landmark, so be sure to veer from this “map,” take some side-roads, and create your own path as you explore and express the best parts of yourself.